Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Dark Horse Region

The Dark Horse Region
A View into the center of the Milky Way

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Steady Hold

The wind is always moving in Oklahoma but on rare occasions it settles into a drifting whisper. A whisper it was on that hot summer day more than 20 years ago when I drove the hour and half from Edmond to Catoosa near Tulsa to participate in a 4 position smallbore rifle shoot. It was my first time to try my shooting skills, limited as they were, against others in a friendly competition.

After signing in and moving over to my assigned booth, I felt a little embarrassed as I watched seasoned competitors remove their $1000 and even $2000 specialized target rifles from cases that cost more than my little sporting rifle. No one said anything to me, no one even cast a critical eye toward my feeble attempt to at least look like I belonged there, which I didn't. Most of the other dozen or so shooter suited up with their specialized shooting coats and gloves and rolled out their store bought shooting pads. Most of them setup their high dollar Nikon spotting scopes which allowed them to view where their shots fell on the 50 yard bullseye targets with ease. I used an old 8x pair of binoculars which were barely strong enough to do the job and only then if I set my eyes into a deep squint.

I cast envious glances at their beautifully stocked target rifles which were fitted with easily adjusted diopter target sights. A click right or left and up and down made easy work of zeroing in the sights. I had recently hired a gunsmith to replace the original v-sight on my rifle with a cheap peep sight that could only be adjusted if you used a screwdriver to first loosen the lock nuts then with another smaller screwdriver turn the adjustment screw. It took much longer to get the sight zeroed, but it worked, sort of.

I rolled out my shooting pad, a blanket, and attached the shooting sling, an old belt, to the front attachment, settled into the first position, prone, and after the range officer gave the signal, began to sight in my Montgomery Wards 22 caliber sporting rifle using CCI green label target loads. I knew in the back of my mind I stood little chance of really competing against these Olympic quality shooters and rifles, but I just wanted to see where I stood. I fired 3 shots at the sight-in target and with the binoculars noticed my pattern was tightly grouped but slightly low and to the left all inside the 8 ring. I made a quick adjustment and fired 3 more sighters. I wasn't sure where they hit as I could not discern with the binoculars any noticeable hits. The range officer called a cease fire, and we all walked out to our targets. My last three shots landed inside the 10 ring with 2 of them being 10x. I really thought I had arrived and these guys didn't stand a chance. My little old sport rifle was going to shoot rings around I thought.

We went through the first round from the prone position and my steadiness of hand and the inconsistent nature of my low end rifle caused my scores to fall off some. When we returned to the shooting station we were not allowed to score our own targets, so we exchanged with the shooter next to us. I managed to score a 47 on one of the targets, and a 46 out of 50 on the other. The shooter next to me who was decked out in all the pro-style shooting gear and using one of those $1000 target rifles scored no better than I had.

When we handed our targets back to each other, he said, "Nice Shooting. What kind of rifle are you using?" I smiled rather sheepishly and said, "Oh, just that 20 year old (at the time) sporting rifle."

His eyebrow raised and he lifted my simple rifle off the table. "You shot this target with this rifle?"
"That's right," I replied.

He shook his head in disbelief and said, "Well done. Most of the shooters here with Olympic quality target rifles can't shoot that well."

As the shoot wore on through the other positions, sitting, kneeling, and standing, my lack of shooting skill and inferior equipment began to take a toll and my scores although respectable fell well short of what the others were doing. But it was a fun experience and I learned a great deal about what it really takes to become a great shooter. I returned from time to time through the summer for additional shooting experience but never really did fit in with that group...I just could not afford to purchase all the equipment I needed to be able to effectively compete.

Over the years I have spent time with my two boys teaching the basics of shooting starting first with a BB-gun and eventually graduating to the 22 and shotguns. They learned well and seemed to always enjoy those moments sighting on those targets. My youngest son eventually joined the ROTC shooting team at his high school and competed with them making it as a team all the way to the Junior Olympics. They did not win anything, but the experience was amazing for them and for him.

Target shooting requires skill sets that carry over into other parts of your life. Patience, steadiness of nerve, accuracy, practice and more practice, learning to focus, to control ones emotions, becoming one with your environment and using your mind and your body to build confidence. Even today, I will pull out that same old sporting rifle, now over 40 years old, set up some of those same 50 yard smallbore rifle targets in the backyard and launch a few rounds with my boys to see if we can shoot a tight pattern around the bulls eye.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Shoot Into The Sun

Being able to see light as the camera sees it is essential for the photographer. Our eyes are amazing organs in
that they have a tremendous range of visual acuity. They are in effect adaptable to wide ranges of lighting conditions. We can easily distinguish between subtle differences of tonal values and details. Even in dark areas, out eyes can extract detail. The camera however is less adaptable and is very direct in its interpretation of light. That is why it is so important for the aspiring photographer to learn to see light based on how the camera reacts to it and let go of his visual sense when it comes to capturing amazingly lit photographs.

Most photographers who have been chasing light for any length of time at all understands that shooting in the middle of the day in bright sunlight is not nearly as effective as shooting during those golden hours of the day; before and just after sunrise, just before and just after sunset. We tend to shy away from shooting in the middle of the day and for good reason most of the time, but, shooting in the middle of the day is not so bad as long as you understand how to use the light at those times to your advantage.

Sometimes I will thumb through all the old family photographs taken with one of those Kodak Brownie cameras way back in the 1950's . In almost all of them we kids were captured with severely squinting eyes as we were positioned so the sun was in our faces. The pictures sufferd with harsh and deep shadows along with unnatural looking expressions. Our parents were victims of their photographic upbringing when ISO's (ASA back then) were low and you litteraly had to stand out in the sun to get an exposure that wasn't too dark. We, however have no such excuses as todays SLR digital cameras provide us with tremendous light gathering capabilites.

Consequently, we can shoot just about anywhere and anytime without worrying so much about how much light there is...somewhat anyway. The best light of course occurs during those golden hours, but you can effectively shoot in the middle of a bright sunny day by doing one simple thing...well, three really. 

First of all place your subject so the sun is behind them and their face is in shadow. This will by itself create those great hair highlights and also will create a rim light around your subject. Next, boost your exposure compensation, that +/- button, up to around +1 or even +2. You can also use something to reflect light like a commercial reflector, foam board, or even a newspaper, into your subjects face, but that is not always practical to do. Don't worry about the background want to expose for the face. Let the background fall where it may. This will often serve to isolate your subject and create that dreamy washed look. You can also look for somekind of dark background which will also serve to isolate your subject and to enhance the highlights from the backlight.

Another thing you can do is to throw some fill light into your subject by using either an external speedlight (flash), or simply use the popup flash on your camera. An external flash gives you more control of the light's strength and direction, but the popup will effectively illuminate the face. 

Don't be afraid to shoot into the sun. By using it as giant backlight, you can create some amazing images.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Grand Adventure

I remember that day in February, 1962. Who could ever forget when John Glenn made his orbital flight
aboard Friendship 7 becoming the first American to orbit the earth (after two previous sub-orbital flights by Shepard and Grissom). Not quite 10 years old at the time, I was like so many other kids of the day, captivated by the early days of the space race. The idea that someone could be hurled over 100 miles high and fast enough to fly around the earth in less than 90 minutes was straight out of Buck Rogers. But, it wasn't science fiction, it was science on the cutting edge and it paved the way for future success.

John Glenn, along with the other original 7 astronauts became household names. Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordo Cooper, and Deke Slayton, I've never forgotten their names nor their exploits. Only 6 of the 7 actually flew those initial Project Mercury flights, Deke Slayton developed an irregular heart beat and was grounded, but later officially became Chief of the Astronauts. (He eventually did get to fly aboard the Apollo / Soyuz project).

When John Glenn passed away on December 9th this year, the last of the original 7 astronauts left us for his final flight home. Oddly enough, I was saddened when I heard about his passing. Seemed like a part of me died at the same time. So much of my youthful years was spent following the space program, it was almost like I lived it with them. In some ways I did, like the rest of us baby boomers who grew up during that era. I still have a strong interest in science even today and it was greatly influenced by watching those early flights play out live in front of us on those flickering old black and white television sets.

Remember those days, when every launch was carried live and every detail was explained so we could understand by the 'Science Editor' from all the news agencies. It was real news with high risk and possibility of a disaster unfolding in front of us. I was pulled alive into that small black and white screen and began to dream of adventures. We even had a television brought into a class room so we could watch the launches. What a great education. Instead of reading about it, we witnessed it happen. It was exciting history that changed our lives.

Today, I discovered and watched a three part documentary (Friendship 7: Full Mission) about John Glenn's flight. This documentary which runs almost 5 hours follows the entire flight from pre-launch to launch, thru all three orbits, re-entry and splashdown. Every radio transmission, file film footage, the entire flight replayed from beginning to end. As I watched the program I became that 9 year old captivated boy again. The legend that was John Glenn transported me back to those early days of exploring the unknown. I relived the moment when it appeared the heatshield on his Mercury capsule might have come loose prematurely. It was a real danger, yet he followed through with cool abandon. I watched as he had to take control of his craft when the automatic stablizing system malfunctioned. I cheered and shouted an 'atta-boy' when he walked across the deck of his recovery ship. I remember those days like they were yesterday. I long to experience such emotions again.

Sometimes I wish this country would once again initiate another grand adventure such as Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Even in the tumultous times of the 1960's, not unlike what we are experiencing today, the space program served to united us like nothing else could. As a nation we need another moment in time when we can once again be uplifted by the spirit of adventure. If I could ask the next president one question, I would ask him, "Is there a grand adventure left for this country to achieve, one where all Americans and indeed the world can benefit, and what must we do to achieve it?"

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Hike Through a Winter Woods

I have developed a bad case of the use-to-do's. I used to do a great deal of seeking out adventures...use to do a lot of canoeing and hiking...and fishing. Use to spend as much time outdoors as I could muster..use to have a great deal more energy than I do now. Seems I have allowed life circumstances to stifle all the activities I use to do to the point where sometimes I feel like I've lost my identity.

Today I managed to get out for a while and take a hike through the winter woods up to one of my favorite places; Shanty Hollow Lake. While stomping around the bluffs and listening to the solitude, it became very evident just how much I miss doing such things. Seems odd really, to write a blog post for an Outdoor Photography site when it seems I have such a difficult time getting out these days. Oh, the desire is still there deep down in the heart, just that too many of life's issues has interfered with following through with those desires.

I said to myself today...' know, you gotta just make time to do this more often and quit making it so difficult on yourself to do so.' I decided right then and there to...well, just do it. To help me get rebooted I plan on starting another semi long-term photo project. The idea is to revisit as many of my favorite places as I can during the winter months, to rephotograph them and take video footage along the way. Never did much videography, just some simple clips here and there. Hopefully, I can manage to capture some interesting footage. So here then is my first Winter Project article...A Hike Through a Winter Woods. 


The winter woods, how quiet and fresh, how serene and crisp. Even on a gray overcast day, the winter
woods offers within its realm a measure of solitude accented with an array of colors subdued by the very nature of winter. Finding color in an otherwise gray environment is actually rather easy for what color there is stands apart from the dullness of a slumbering woods. Green by far is the boldest color, of lichens and mosses, and a myriad of broad leafed plants that still sprout defiantly amongst the jumble of fallen leaves. No shortage of leaves of course with their brownly buff, rusty tan, and damped oranges. Add a splash or two of red and the variety and intensity of the colors of a winter woods comes to life.

Winter provides for fresh air like no other season. The coolness of it embrace invigorates the soul and cheers you on with each step. It speaks with a language all its own and intensifies with the slightest breeze. A wind will almost make it yell at you, awaken your senses as it slaps your face. Add to it a lively stream, one that rolls and chirps its song without end, each note the same as before, yet somehow blending into a sweet symphony as musically intoxicating as any born from man.

A winters woods, to feel it, to know it one must walk through it, to experience it one must linger within its halls and allow all of its charms to elevate you above what is normal. A winter woods is not ordinary, it is enchanting. Toss in a layer of fresh snow and it is transformed into a world alive with wonder. Oh to walk through the woods on blanket of snow one begins to live again, to find meaning again from a life so often held in check

A woods filled with winter reverberates with an energetic resonance not discovered any other time of year. A chirp, a subtle splash, a whisper of wind, a hawk circles overhead, and the flow of water as it dances along, around, and through a tangle of bolders and stones. These are the sounds of a winter woods. These are the elements by which one can be restored, to rediscover why one is drawn to such places.

I took a hike through a winter woods and witnessed once again the wisdom of why God created such moments.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Get It Right In Camera

Photoshop and all its derivatives have revolutionized photo processing so much so that very few photographers including myself could hardly survive as such without it. I'd venture to say that Ansel Adams himself would love Photoshop and rightly so because when used within its magical abilities, photoshop will transform marginally exposed images into works of art.

Photoshop with all of its power has also created a lot of lazy photographers. Indeed, digital photography in general has contributed to that laziness with its instant gratification. I feel fortunate to have studied the basics of photography during the days of manual film cameras. For having done so I do believe has helped me become a stronger photographer across the entire spectrum of the art form. Oh I still have a lot to grasp and must in time continue to develop my technique so as to improve my skills, but having studied during the time when you had to get it right in camera before you ever saw the image has proven an invaluable asset.

As a result, even today with the versatility and advantages digital cameras provide, I still strive to get my images right in the camera before downloading for processing. There are several reasons why.

First of all, its just a force of habit. I am always thinking in terms of f-stop, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, lens selections, and composition. Digital cameras today make it relatively easy to get the shot close but I want more than close. I want it as close to dead on as I can get. It is amazing how often I hear someone say, 'I have a good camera...I just put it program mode and it gets everything right'. Most of the time I simply smile and ask what kind of camera they have. Remarks like that reveal how little the person understands what the camera is actually doing. To truly take advantage of the power inside that camera, you still have to understand what it is doing.

Secondly, by getting the shot right in camera, any post processing that must be done is simplified. The majority of the digital images I take require minimal post processing. A slight tweak of contrast and brightness, and small amount of sharpening, and an occasional touch of color correction, and I am done. Most pictures I can do in less than a minute with the exception of portraits which generally take longer because of the requirements to get the skin tones and softening correct.

Thirdly, I want to stay engaged with the photographic process. It is part of the craft of photography to think through the problem and apply the correct solution. It is like the difference between using a stamp to mechanically create something over and over, verses building it from scratch with your hands. The satisfaction level is so much greater and the quality of the finished product becomes readily evident.

Lastly, getting in right in camera is not unlike painting a beautiful picture on a blank piece of canvas using all the artistic techniques and tools to capture a unique moment in time. It certainly is more difficult, but the rewards are so much greater for having done so. It also allows you to become much more creative. When you understand what is happening and why the camera does what it does, you begin to bridge the gap between being a simple picture taker of things capturing xerox images of what you see to becoming someone who can visualize the end result before you ever release the shutter. That is what artist do, they create works of art that stir the soul. Striving to get it right in camera elevates your photography to that next level of understanding what it means to become an artitist.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Capturing Character

Character is to photography like flavor is to food. It becomes what is savored the most. The image comes alive because of the visual appeal it presents and becomes the defining essence of whatever it is you are photographing. Whether a portrait or a landscape, every photographic opportunity is defined by its character. Capturing character therefore becomes one of the utmost important missions for every photographer. Recognizing character, then capturing it comes with experience.

Recognizing photographic character may in fact be one of the most difficult principles to master for photographers of all levels. Partly because there is such a wide range of possibilities, one can easily look right past it. One of the more obvious points of character is found with capturing people. Creating compelling portraits is all about capturing character. Without it, all you have is a Xerox image of someone. Character is what defines their personality and character definition is most often associated with how you use light and shadows to enhance the persons features. Soft light, harsh light, back light, sidelight, direct light, filtered light, defused light, daylight, low light, shadow light, big light, small light, all of these play a role in defining the character of the person you are photographing. Recognizing which one to use for each individual moment requires you understand the effects each of these can have on your subject. To develop this understanding requires that you shoot using all of these kinds of light. Without practise, no amount of instruction will improve your ability to apply what you want to do.

I once heard a former player for the legendary University of Oklahoma football coach, Barry Switzer ask his coach why they had to run these plays a thousand times in practise. Barry's answer was classic..."...because 999 is not enough". His point was to make the execution of the plays instinctive and that comes with repetition. The same applies to learning how to employ techniques that capture character. The more practise you get, the more instinctive it becomes, and eventually you begin to see or visualize the end result before you ever snap an image. Practise not only involves the mechanics, it involves the mental aspects as well. Learning to see photographically and thus learning how to capture character only comes with a great deal of perseverance.

Becoming instinctive is the key. If you have to think about what you are doing all the time, your results will often reflect the indecision you are encountering. Of course at first you do have to think about it, but go about it in a creative way by asking yourself, 'I wonder...or What if...or I want to see what this does.' Sometimes what you experiment with may work in one situation but not in another. Regardless if it works or not, you will have learned something in the process.

This applies to every form of photography. Think conceptually about finding character in the moment and move away from simply photographing things. Use this wonderful element called Light to your advantage and apply it in as many ways as you can imagine for imagination is what will elevate the character of your photography to a newer, higher plain of accomplishment.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What I learned about photography during 2016

Every year I learn something new about photography. Sometimes what I learn is simple and sometimes what I learn really opens my eyes. What is most important is to keep learning. So here's a list of insights about photography I gained this past year.

1.  Old lenses are just as good as new ones...they're just cheaper to buy.

2.  It is good to look through your old photographs to see how far you have come...and to verify how far you still need to go.

3.  Stick to what you know to perfect it, but do not be afraid to branch out and try new things.

4.  Focusing on a project regardless of its scope is more efficient than taking random pictures and relying on random chance.

5.  Take notes and write about your experiences in the field. Keep them in some kind of journal or blog, then take time to read back through them from time to time.

5a. Don't worry about your writing skills, just write...your skills will improve over time as will your understanding of photographic principles. The writing helps you understand what is happening.

6.  There is a difference between being 'Well Dreamnt' and creating experiences by following your dreams.

7.  Photographing in the middle of the day in bright sun is actually okay provided you do it wisely and understand how to use the sun to your advantage.

8.  Even small weddings are hard to photograph effectively by yourself...but they are also very rewarding to do.

9.  Backup everything right away...and keep extra SD cards available...they can fail on you.

10. Share you work with others and always be open to critical review...others see your work differently and can provide insightful criticism.

11. Spend lots of time admiring other photographers work, but review it from the persepctive of 'How did they do that'...and then see if you can duplicate the technique.

12. Not all photography has to be a work of art. Snapshots are important family history pictures.

13. When photographing a group of teenagers...feed off their energy and use their energy to generate those magical moments.

14. Teenagers are great!

15. Shooting with off camera speed-lights doubles your potential as a photographer. Use them creatively and avoid the cliche.

16. Big skies are amazing but sometimes difficult to find in Kentucky.

17. Photograph everything...don't just always shoot the ordinary subjects. Look at the world with a creative eye and even a static display can become a work of art.

18. Harvest time can provide some fantastic photo ops.

19. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about photography as you are...but that is okay.

20. and finally....Find some time to just have fun with it and don't worry about always having to create a great image. The great moments will come...but when they don't, just have fun.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Indian Summer

Fall..a time for change...a season of transition, possibly my favorite time of year for many reasons. No other time does the array of colors adorn the landscape. Reds, greens, yellows, orange, and brown all provided in vaious shades and intensities. The same can be said about the weather, cool crisp evenings, blustery days, blue skies and clear vistas are just some of what is instore, but no other time does Indian Summer wrap itself around us with a cloak of warmth and color.

When the fall colors arrive, I believe they were created to allow the sun an opportunity to vibrate with excitement, to show us another side of life where brilliance and tone become the standard. As a photographer, one simply has to take advantage of the moment, for the moment will not last. Before long Indian Summer fades into a slumber, not to be stirred from its sleep until the next fall season.

My favorite time of year, well more often than not, it is the one I find myself in at any given moment, yet today served itself well as I discovered myself absorbing the soothing fragrance that is Indian Summer, allowing its warmth to cleanse what ailes me, to suspend me above old wounds, to slow down for a while and remember what is good about life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nbr 6 - What I like About This Shot - Super Moon Above the Corvette Museum

Seems to me we've had several Super Moon events in recent times. Seems like each time they say we won't see this again for X nbr of years...then before long another one appears. Doesn't make much difference in the scheme of things except to provide a photographer an excuse to get out and take some interesting shots.

I've photographed the moon dozens of times, mostly when it is not full because the shadows of a partially lit moon bring out a more interesting array of features. Full moons however, have an almost mystic complexity to them. It is the kind of complexity where one is drawn into its mystery. It is not difficult to photograph the moon as long as you approach it with the right set of exposure values. What is more difficult is to place the moon inside an interesting composition, one where its mystery, its history, its magical properties are all inner woven into the fabric of the composition.

This image was taken during the latest and greatest 2016 super moon event. To be honest, I wasn't even contemplating getting out to photograph it until a friend called me and asked if I would join him and another person at the Corvette Museum to photograph the event. It turned out to be a good decision. For several months, years really, I've wanted to photograph the Sky Dome and pinnacle portion of the museum as it is a unique archetechural design, just never made time to do so. The Sky Dome, if you recall, is where the sinkhole opened up and dumped 8 beautifully restored Corvettes into the abys. Five of those cars were completely destroyed with no hope of being re-restored. The standing water sits in the bottom of another ancient sinkhole and there are several other ones nearby. So there is a bit of historical and geological significance with this location.

I must admit something here, well two somethings really. First of all, yes the moon did appear above the museum and it was magnificent. wasn't exactly in this location. It was close, just a bit further to the right off the frame from this angle. Also, the Sky Dome image was taken before the moon appeared, to take advantage of the twilight sky and reflection in the water pool. I also used a one-stop graduated neutral density filter to bring the sky and its reflection into exposure sync . A separate shot of the moon was captured with a longer focal length lense and superimposed it into this composition slightly to the left of where it actually would have been. Had you been standing at a slightly different angle a few yards to the left, the moon rise looked very much like this but would not have been reflected in the water. I simply took my artist perogative and moved it slightly to create a more interesting composition. Some purist will frown at me for having done this. Frankly, I'm not concerned about it. The technique is nothing new or unethical and the end result speaks for itself and reflects the true nature of this magical moment.

So having clarified the situation...What do I like about this image? Compositonally it is very strong. The color contrasts between the Sky Dome and the sky create a vibration of opposing colors. The moon simply places the composition into a unique moment in time and adds a spectacular element of interest...and yes, it really did look like this for the most part, and that is what makes it a fun image.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Nbr 5 - What I like about this Shot - Moon Snow

Winter is one of the most demanding of times to photograph. It can also be one of the most amazing. Skies can turn crystal clear or they can turn ominous and dark. You will discover a fresh crispness not found any other time of year. Winter also presents itself as daily new photographic opportunities, and when the day turns white the opportunity becomes magical. During the winter of '15 - '16 Kentucky was turned into a brilliant world of white experiencing one of the heaviest snowfalls on record. It was a photo opportunity the likes of which I have rarely been accustomed to.

As a photographer I often either plan my outings or at least have an idea of what I want to accomplish. Sometimes, things just happen and I get lucky. Moon Snow is one such image. The sun was still fifteen or twenty minutes from rising and the moon was about the same amount of time from setting. During this time one can experience one of the most interesting astronomical phenomenons. Just before the sun rises and because of the curvature of the earth the sun rays will often penetrate through the upper layers of the atmosphere and cause two things to happen. One, to the west, the earth will cast its shadow into the lower levels of the atmosphere and the sun's rays will cause the upper layers to glow pink. These can be easily seen on clear mornings. On this morning, there was a near full moon about to set and because the sky was clear, the shadow and pink glow are readily visible in this image. Just above ground level there is a dark band...this is the earths shadow being cast into the atmosphere. Above the shadow is the pink glow...caused by the suns rays penetrating through the atmosphere, and to the left of the old shed sits the moon.

Why do I like this shot? It captures this lighting phenomenon as well as any I've ever made and the image retains that still, penetrating coldness that is so much a part of what capturing  the flavor of winter is all about.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nbr 4 - What I Like About This Shot - At the Spillway

There is nothing striking about it, nothing that stands apart from any other ordinary snapshot. In deed, that is exactly what it is, an ordinary snapshot. The person in the image always liked to clown around, he pulled such antics going back to his early years, and true to his nature, he just had to get animated for this one. It was a fun day that day, one we can remember with fondness.

Why I like this picture? Well, because snapshots are some of the most endearing and enduring pictures we can take because they capture life as we see it, as we live it. Snapshots reveal to us who we were. They capture our past, our families in candid moments, and they capture moments in the unique timeline history that leads to us now, at this very moment.

Sure I could have setup a speedlight and framed the image to produce a nice well lit portrait. But I didn't...I simply did what most people do, just took the shot because it was there to take. I have boxes of family snapshots, and you know I probably get more enjoyment thumbing through them than all the time I spend sifting through my so called Good Pictures.

Why do I like this picture? Well, it just so happens this is the very last photo ever taken of my dad. He was just shy of turning 91 and we were back in Oklahoma visiting for some much needed vacation time off. A few days later we returned home to Kentucky...barely a week after that...he died.

I like this picture for many reason, most which I cannot effectively translate into words. When I see this picture my heart is saddened for I can never again call to talk about the OU football game. We can no longer have those political discussions, and this election year would have been filled with all sorts of comments. A deluge of memories floods my thoughts, for all of the family I grew up with are now gone. I am the only one left, and this is the last reminder I have.

My dad was proud World War II veteran having served and fought on Leyte and Okinawa. With Veterans Day almost upon us, he still serves as a great example of one of the Greatest Generation. The hat he is wearing is a WWII Veteran hat. I have it now in my curio cabinet.

Often, memories are rekindled by thumbing through collections of snapshots. That is why snapshots are the best way to communicate your life to family members not yet born, so...take plenty of them not worrying about how good they are. It's not the quality of the pictures that counts, it is the quality of the memories they capture that counts.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Nbr 3 - What I like About This Shot - Canoe on Shanty Hollow

Canoe On Shanty Hollow

There are ordinary days, ordinary moments, and ordinary endeavors. Our lives are filled with them most of the time. Even photographers tend to find themselves, in spite of out best efforts, sometimes trapped within a bubble of mediocrity creating ordinary images...until, as if guided by an invisible hand, we stumble onto a magical uplifting moment, one where all the instincts within us surface to create something extraordinary.

One of the concepts I try to promote is the idea of how to jump start creative photographic instincts. An easy way to do so is to begin a long term project and then focus your efforts toward fulfilling its purpose. Several years ago I started one of the most ambitious photographic projects I ever attempted. I wanted to capture a single location spread out over a full year. Doing so would allow me to fully explore all the aesthetic beauty found within its boundaries. The project I started was to photograph a nearby lake, Shanty Hollow, and attempt to capture its flavor in as many ways as I could. Some of the best images I've ever taken happened as a result of that year long effort. It was a challenge, yet it was also one of the most rewarding challenges. This image, Canoe On Shanty Hollow, was one of the best from that series and one of my all time favorites.

Shanty Hollow is a perfect lake for canoeing or kayaking. It's relatively small yet large enough one can spend an entire morning, afternoon, or a full day exploring is numerous coves, scenic beauty, and wildlife. There are hiking trails, a waterfall, and yes of course the lake itself. It offered an almost endless array of opportunity.

It was August 2011 and the long muggy summer was starting to wind toward the early days of fall. The days were still summer hot, but the mornings were cool and that almost always generated a layer of fog across the surface of the lake. Perfect for photography. On this day, I struggled to crawl out of bed well before sun up so I could make the 40 minute drive and have time to unload the canoe then paddle to the upper end of the lake so I could catch the sun as it started to rise behind the rolling tree covered hills that outlined the backside.

As I expected a layer of fog drifted across the surface as not a breath of air stirred a single ripple. As the sky began to grow lighter I positioned the front of the canoe to face the sun, waited for the water stirred by the paddle to calm, and began to snap images. The fog lifted a few yards into the air and hovered over the edge of the ridge. Behind the ridge, the sun was trying to climb but remained obscured. In its obscurity a perfect scene came to life as the fog began to glow and reflect off the perfectly calm water. I lined up this shot and when I released the shutter, I knew I had captured a winner.

Why I like this image...Well, not sure I have room here to fully convey its impact. The technical aspects of the image are pleasing...the symmetry, the lighting, the overall flavor of the image by themselves make this an easy image to like. But there is more to this picture than the visual elements. I like this image mostly because of the peaceful story it conveys. When viewing it, one understands why this moment was important, indeed, it is the sort of image that portrays the meaning of place and time. You can hear the silence, feel the peace, breathe the freshness, and sense the restorative powers of being alone with nature. There is no finer moment than greeting an extraordinary day while riding suspended above haunting waters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nbr 2 - What I Like About This Shot

I drive by this place almost everyday. As a result I have been able to photograph this scene in all seasons and in just about every kind of light you can imagine. Why is it then this single image stands apart from all the other attempts to capture it?

Before discussing the technical points of the image, those of us who grew up in small towns or perhaps entertained opportunities to spend time on a grandparents farm will understand the emotional impact this image contains. There is something about a country road that takes us back to those times, to rememberances of our youth. An effective image does that. It will rekindle dormant memories of fragrant fall leaves, the aroma of a summer shower, the feeling of a season changing breeze. It serves as a reminder of who we were and bridges the gap of changing times between then and now.

Oddly enough even though I have photographed this location numerous times, most of those images turned out rather ordinary in nature. This one, however, was different, and I knew it from the moment I arrived that somehow, all the right ingredients were there to create something special. It was late fall and most of the leaves had already turned and dropped, but a few were still hanging around. All the fields had been harvested and the cooler seasons were about to settle in for the long haul. I headed down the road just before sunup hoping to see one of those legendary Kentucky sunrises. It was not to be as I was greated with mostly overcast skies that were stirred and churned into a deep caldrun of shape and texture. In reality I had not intended to photograph this location on that day, but as I drove by, as the sun began to burn through the clouds right at sunup, rays of light swept across the landscape in random beams striking where they may. I pulled into the road, ran down the lane about a hundred yards and started shooting.

After a few shots a single beam of light caught the tops of the dry grass growing along the fence row and just lightly highlighting the corn stalk stubble in the field. The one tree that still had leaves on it caught another beam. Still another bounced off the storage silo and the clouds broke into several layers of dark, middle tone, and paler grays. When this image appeared in my view screen, I knew I had captured the one shot I had always knew was there. The range of darks, grays, and lights blended almost perfectly adding a measure of distance and space. The road winding toward the home and beyond connected the view, and the old home standing resolute...well, it just looked and felt right...even in its original color version. When converted to black and white, all the best traits represented here became even more profound.

Why do I like this image? The Depth of the image in all of its aspects is what sets this one apart. It brings me home again. It shouts with nostalgia, with country living, with what is right about America. It is one of those ageless photographs where one can once again remember good times from the past, where wholesome values still exist, values that still encourage with brighter hopes for the future.

What I like About This Shot....

Over the next few weeks, from time to time, I am going to share some ideas about certain pictures I've managed to take and why I like them. Every picture I have ever kept I kept for a reason. Usually there was something unique about it, or circumstances surrounding them were unique. I am all the time trying to explain a picture to someone who may or may not have much reason to care or want to know such details. Guess it is sort of like a car buff who just can't stop talking tech about his hot rod.

Here is a photo I took a few years ago of a farming friend of mine. Always thought he carried himself well,
distinguished, yet down to earth, humble, yet proud of his contributions to...well...the rest of us. We timed the shoot perfectly as the day was covered with low hanging, dark, clouds with lots of texture. I asked him to drive his tractor out to the field so we could use it as a prop. You know, a tractor, the kind I think of anyway is something you can park inside a typical garage. As it turned out he wheeled out this piece of machinery that was the size of my first house...and that was just his mid-sized tractor.

Even so, it added so much to the story, without it, the image would have just been of someone standing in a field. The dark clouds full of texture really added a great deal of drama. The image would not have been the same without those clouds. At the time I only had one speedlight, and it by itself was not going to do the job, so I brought the big gun studio lights with a small softbox attached. I used two lights both powered by a homemade power supply consisting of a lawnmower battery and a power converter. Worked like a charm.

My approach was to take one of those larger than life images. My friend is rather tall at about 6' 4" or so, so I wanted to take advantage of his height. I framed him with the tractor in background with its lights on, against that dark ominous sky. Farmers and weather tend to have this love hate relationship...the weather sometimes makes their life difficult, and sometimes it provides an ideal situation that produces bumper crops. When its good, they love it...when its bad...well, I can only imagine the difficulties they must endure. far as why I like this picture...simply stated, it captures the symbolic nature of farmer vs weather and how both of them must work together to grow the crops we as a nation depend on. He, standing firm and resolute, maybe even a bit defiant. The weather doing what it always does, friend or foe. The way the clouds appear to be racing across the sky...indeed they were...portrays the volatile nature of the farmer/weather relationship. The overall look of the image, being dark and moody, reflects the struggle farmers must endure every season. Images like these are not always easy to construct...sometimes they just happen, and sometimes you just lucky. For this particular image, well, I knew what I wanted, I just got lucky how the weather cooperated with those desires.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Morning of Fall Magic

I can believe in nothing more appealing than a morning of fall magic when the fading warmth of the sun arches lower across the sky to awaken a morning mist stirred by dormant breezes.

It is then one experiences a feeling of change in the air, a pleasant change whose stirrings unleash persuasive life connections.

I can find no other time comparable to the gentle emotions induced through the cleansing of the air and the crisp aroma of falling leaves. A morning of fall magic returns us to memories of better times, to remembrances of a youthful hope, and the sweet hypnotic embrace from the best of seasons.

Fall magic not only reminds me of these things, it reminds me of what is most important...the goodness of life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Stretch Your Imagination - Visualize Your World in Unique Ways

I once heard it said that the main difference between your average shade tree mechanic and Big Daddy Don Garletts is that Big Daddy was not afraid to go against the established ways of doing things. He was constantly questioning why things were done a certain way. Then he would try something different just to see what the results would be. One of his most famous innovations was putting the race engine behind the driver when the trend was that engines were suppose to be in front. Oddly enough, his innovative techniques and constant trying of new things propelled him into drag racing legendary status.

Photographers can  learn a great deal from Big Daddy's approach. We tend to fall into the same ole traps doing the same ole things the same ole way. Often what we end up with is a collection of cliched works. They may be good photographs, but they look just like every other photographers photographs. To truly separate yourself from the trend, you must stretch your imagination by visualizing your world in unique ways.

A few years ago I was attempting to photograph a sundown in front of a friends former home. She and her family had recently moved away and wanted some photos to remember the view from her kitchen window. She had always loved watching the sun go down across the fields in front of their house. Several times I tried to capture that unique sunset, you know, one of those rosey fingered affairs with all the dramatic clouds and sun rays filling the sky. Well it just wasn't happening.

One day as I stood next to the wooden fence waiting for the sunset to materialize, it became apparent it just was not going to work...again. The potential was good with broken clouds but most of them were drifting behind me in the opposite direction of where I needed them. As the sun settled and my hopes of obtaining that legendary photo diminished, I had one of those incredible moment-altering ideas...I turned around...and looked the other direction. Sure enough those broken clouds were being illuminated by the setting sun, but their hue was rather ordinary...sort of soft and creamy instead of dramatic and bold. Then one of those what if Don Garlett ideas popped into my head...What if I pushed the white balance all the way out to 9000K instead of using the standard 5200k. So I tried it just to see what would happen. The results were, how can I say it...Wonderfully Alive.

Those ordinary looking clouds suddenly became vivid with bold color and cast a dramatic atmosphere across the landscape. What I saw in the camera was not what I was seeing visually, but it was what I was seeing emotionally. It was one of the best attempts to visualizing the world in a unique way...not just accepting what was there, but looking beyond the obvious and using the cameras ability to capture light in unique ways. Stretching your imagination is one of the best creative tools you can develop and use.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Make Your Subject Stand Out

The young lady sat on the edge of a low-water bridge, with her feet dangling over the edge, tossing a few stones into the creek. Catch lights were infiltrating through the long strands of her blond hair creating natural highlights photographers love to use. She wore a light pink thin sweater and a lacy skirt that covered off-white tights, all of which tended to blend with the pale surface of the bridge. Although the scene setup was perfect, the lighting was marginal and it required a bit of touchup to make it work. (click on each image to get a closer look)

Using a single speedlight to fill in the shadows on her face, the image was snapped and eventually loaded into Photoshop Elements. Out of the camera it wasn't bad, a bit dull requiring a tweak of brightness and exposure compensation to bring the lighting back to within more normal limits. Doing so helped, but it needed something else. My subject needed to be separated from the background to create a more pleasing composition and dramtic light arrangement.

Although there are numerous ways to accomplish this requirement, some in camera and some post processing, I'm going to describe a simple way to separate your subject just enough to make them stand out.

First thing to do is to go ahead and make all of your normal post processing exposure tweaks. Things like brightness, contrast, color correction, get the idea. Once all of those tweaks are done we begin the process to separate your subject. The primary tool we use is the Lasso tool. You will want to set the feathering setting to around 20 pixels, then gently and loosely draw an outline around your subject. You do not have to be real precise, but try to stay fairly close to the edges of your subject.

After completing the initial outline, you will need to click on the Select drop down and click on INVERSE. This will select everything outside the perimeter of the outline you just drew. Now click on Enhance, Lighting, then Levels and depending on the make up of your image you will need to slide the Middle Tone Slider to the right a few clicks. This will begin to darken the background. Do not overdo it, just darken it enough to allow your subject to stand out.

Once you have completed that step to your satisfaction, click on Select again and Inverse once more. This will return you to the original outline. You can if you need to, boost your subjects brightness just a few points, then move the Lasso cursor off the page and click to turn it off. Your image now takes on a deeper, richer, more dramatic look.  It's that easy.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Transition of Seasons

Over the years I have spent a great deal of time exploring and photographing natures best offerings through every season. Unfortunately, there are times I allow moments to drift away becoming potential moments of discovery that are allowed to go undiscovered, lost for inexcusable reasons.

There is a campfire-like flame constantly glowing within me seeking to discover what is new photographically and in life. Circumstances and events will at times cause that flame to grown dim almost like the dying embers of a campfire as they cool in the wee hours of the morning. Even so, it is a spark that has never grown completely cold and only requires the gentle puff of encouragment and a fresh feeding of kindling from life to fan itself into a burning flame again.

Some of my finest photographic moments have played out after a rekindling of that flame. Maybe that is why I love it so much when a change is in the air as it seems to regenerate a yearning to get out again. The most enduring opportunities seem to always materialize during those transitional moments when the old tapers away to blend into the new. Life is also full of transitional seasons, seasons where change engulfs us, molds us, and offers to lift and carry us a bit farther down an uncertain road. Uncertainty, the catalyst driving so many decisions, yet somehow we manage. Photography in so many ways parallels life in negative and positive ways. Photography is not like life where mechanics and well established settings and techniques render good results. Photography is like life where constant adjustments to fit the ever changing situations that face us are required and applied. Unfortunantly, life does not have an AUTO setting which is probably a good thing, but it does have PRIORITY settings. Once we learn how to apply Priorities, well things tend to fall into place most of the time, at least until the next crisis arrives. But, having gone through it before tends to moderate the negative effects.

Even so, there are times I need to walk into a field near sundown to simply stand and absorb the sky, the breeze, the warmth of the sun, and most of all, the feeling of belonging as natures grandest canvas is painted in slow motion around me. Doing so tends to create a rejuvenated measure of anticipation and excitement. As I walk away from those moments I am compelled to wonder how often it is when everyday the veil of a changing daily seasons unfold, and we simply let it happen without ever noticing. Too often I would imagine.

Maybe too, that is why I so often point my camera in the direction of those approaching and ending seasons, to capture how the impact of their arrival and exit affects my vision of natures beauty and lifes challenges. New seasons arrive full of bluster and bravado. It is a change where at first it feels great, yet somehow as the last days of the previous one struggle to transition into the next, we're ready to move on tempered with anticipation for something new. The Good Lord understood exactly why we need to experience a change of daily and yearly seasons and he provided ample merging opportunities to add variety and enchantment to our lives.

I am encouraged even by the decline and death of a previous season for I know what follows is the renewal and birth of a new one. Photographing those transitional times through the year is like capturing random moments of a life with all its hopes and dreams intact, still to be fullfilled, still to find a path toward another new yet to be discovered revelation.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The One Day Adventure Shoot

Walter Mitty and I are closely related. You remember Walter. He's that cartoon character from many years
ago who in real life is rather timid and meek, but in his daydreams he is this swashbuckling adventuresome heroic character. Well, maybe we're not all that closely related, but I can certainly relate to the character.

Too often I tend to approach my photography with a timid approach, more like the real Walter Mitty style, and fail to live up to the adventuresome daydreaming character approach. I suppose there are moments when I've been a bit more aggressive chasing down a photographic moment to subdue it with a feeble attempt to be...should I say heroic? Most of us find it difficult to merge time and resources at the same moment to pursue those adventure outings. Sure I'd love to hike the Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim, or spend a week or two paddling the Boundary Waters area. I'd even settle to travel around to some of the other national parks and take snap shots. Problem is, when I have the time to do such things, I rarely have the resources, and when I do have the resources I inevitably do not have the time or even worse, those resources must be resourced toward something more urgent like paying the mortgage. Well, that is where the One Day Adventure idea comes into play. Most of us can find one single day every now and then to pursue an adventure.

The trick is to recognize where the opportunities lie near your home and then plan ahead to take advantage of the limited available time. I live in Kentucky and fortunately there are a lot of One Day Adventure opportunities nearby. Within an hour maybe two, I can drive to multiple locations and spend an entire day adventuring and photographing. I tend to do this quite a lot, sometimes more successfully than others.

There are extended times when I find myself locked in and unable to get out much. When the confinment continues on for an extended length of time I feel like I start to lose my identity and those old desires to be adventurous start to wither. What is bad is I often do not even realize how withered they have become until I happen to watch a program or read about another person's adventure. Sometimes jsut sitting on the porch in a rocking chair watching the summer rain will trigger some distant memory and I will once again begin to long to feel the wind and see the sky. That is when the old Walter Mitty in me begins to kick in.  Eventually, those daydreams stir me to action and I will rediscover who I am by getting out and about.

You know, ole Walter has been a good friend in a way. Without his influence I dare say my life would be rather mundane and dull. Those Walter Mitty-like daydreams can often become a reality even if just for a single day, and that sure beats sitting around listening to the pee frogs chirp.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mid-Day Blues - Think Classic Black and White

Trying to create a great photograph in the middle of the day with a bright blue sky and lots of sun is often like trying to drink from a firehose, too much of a potentially good thing. This is especially true for color photographs. The harsh light and shadows creates strong contrasts that are just not condusive to asthetically pleasing photographs. Color images require moody light which most often occurs early and late in the day. But, all is not hopeless for shooting in the middle of the day...if you think in Black and White.

Black and white photography is all about contrast, shape, and form. A blue sky day with bright sun is the perfect setting for black and white. Throw in some of those white puffy summer clouds and you have an Ansel Adams formula for great artistic expression.

There are many times I will shoot scenics in the middle of the day and when I do I am almost always thinking in terms of Black and White. I have in my book collection several Ansel Adams books and I am regularly browsing through them. Not only are his photographs incredible works of art, they are great instructional resources as well. A high percentage of his photographs were taken in the middle of the day. Most of them include those dramtic cloud formations against a black or almost black sky. I often wondered how he achieved that black sky look. Of course he accomplished this by using filters and various kinds of films and print paper along with darkroom techniques that enhanced that look. However, I discovered how relatively easy it is to duplicate this look in the modern digital world.

When shooting those big sky scenics I almost always use a polarizer filter. By itself it will reduce glare and darken a blue sky. When converting the image to black and white ( I use Silver Effects ) that blue sky will become very dark and when adding a bit of red filter processing and toning the blue values down, the sky begins to look a lot like Ansel's creations.

Point is, do not dispair about having to shoot in the middle of a bright blue day. Begin to think in terms of black and white and you will discover that you can shoot all day long and achieve amazing results along the way.